War Is Hell, Not Litigation

Posted: Dec 24, 2009 12:01 AM
War Is Hell, Not Litigation

WASHINGTON -- The editor of the venerable conservative weekly Human Events is causing an admirable ruckus. Jed Babbin, once deputy undersecretary of defense in the administration of George H.W. Bush and now the editor of the oldest conservative periodical in the land, is petitioning Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to dismiss charges against three SEALs for reputedly causing discomfort to one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq during his capture last September. Babbin now has more than 90,000 petitioners. Count me in.

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The SEALs -- Julio Huertas, Jonathan Keefe and Matthew McCabe -- are members of SEAL Team 10. Their platoon captured one Ahmed Hashim Abed during a nocturnal raid on or about Sept. 1 in Iraq. Abed is suspected of being the mastermind of the March 2004 ambush in Fallujah of four Blackwater security guards, which by hindsight was not such a good idea on Abed's part. In a wild firefight, his brutes killed the Blackwater contractors, all retired commandos, when they drove into an ambush. Then they desecrated the bodies, dragging them through the streets and hanging two from a bridge for the world to see. That ostentatious display of barbarism caught the attention of the U.S. military, making it, of a sudden, aware that Iraq was becoming dangerously unstable, with violence potentially spiraling out of control. The atrocity was, as military commentator Rowan Scarborough has observed, a wake-up call that did not turn out well for the brutes.

Precisely what happened to Abed that September night is unclear. But he claims one of the SEALs, McCabe, punched him in the stomach, causing him to bleed from the lip -- odd symptoms, no? Presumably, we shall get all the details during the SEALs' court-martial trials, which are scheduled to begin next month. Yet are these trials really necessary? The other two SEALs are charged with participating in a cover-up. I think it is by now pretty well-established that terrorists do not always tell the truth, and they can be unruly when fallen upon in the dark of night in what they had thitherto considered secure hiding places.

Moreover, al-Qaida provides them with a training manual. According to Chapter 18 of a manual released by the Justice Department, al-Qaida's finest are encouraged to complain of torture and lesser acts of mistreatment at the hands of their captors. Possibly they even hire publicists. Thus, we have come to the point that members of one of our most elite special operations forces are going to be court-martialed for causing Abed a bloody lip during his capture.

The travesty could have been averted had the SEALs settled for a lesser charge. That seems to be what the commanding general in charge, Maj. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, expected after conferring with Army lawyers. Yes, Army lawyers are almost as influential in the execution of this war on terror as our finest special ops forces. Yet these SEALs entered military service with the highest ambitions. They want, according to Babbin, to become members of the SEALs' most elite team. If they had settled for the "non-judicial punishment" under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that was dangled before them, their chances of serving our country at a higher level of combat would have ended.

So now these warriors, who regularly faced a barbaric foe to defend our country, will face courts-martial and possible ruin. Gen. Cleveland had it in his power to tell lower-level commanders simply to lecture these soldiers on avoiding bloody lips in the future, but he set a process in motion that is destructive to these men and to the morale of our finest fighters in the war on terror. Secretary Gates can end this abuse of power by simply doing what Cleveland failed to do. Send these men back to their officers to be chewed out.

I hope Gates will follow this course. He is an honorable and intelligent man. I have known him since his boss at the CIA, then-CIA Director Bill Casey, introduced him to me more than two decades ago and told me that with Gates' talent and good sense, he was destined to do great good for our country. These SEALs have done great good, too. Let us get them back to work and get these courts-martial canceled. The guy who should be appearing in the dock is Ahmed Hashim Abed, whose lip has doubtless healed.